America needs a “third Reconstruction,” William Barber II said in a homily at the virtual inaugural prayer service for President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris hosted by Washington National Cathedral on Thursday, Jan. 21.
“Reconstruction” refers first to the period after the Civil War in which a tattered nation attempted to find unity but ultimately failed. The period from the end of World War II until the late 1960s is sometimes called America’s “Second Reconstruction” as the nation began to address civil rights abuses that had lingered unsolved from the first Reconstruction.
Barber, president of Repairers of the Breach and co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, told the incoming president and vice president there’s still work to be done.
“We can’t accept the poverty and low wealth of 140 million Americans before COVID-19 and many more millions since,” he declared. “We must address the five interlocking injustices of systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation/denial of health care, the war economy, and the false moral narrative of religious nationalism.”
Each of these five represents a breach in the nation’s wall of security, he said, quoting the Hebrew prophet Isaiah, who urged the ancient Israelites to be “repairers of the breach.”
“The breach is when we say ‘one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all’ with our lips while we see the rich and the poor living in two very different Americas.”
A “breach,” is “a gap in the nation between what is and how God wants things to be,”he explained. “The breach is when we say ‘one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all’ with our lips while we see the rich and the poor living in two very different Americas.”
Yet, “We don’t have to put up with things as they are,” Barber preached. “We can contradict the breach with every prayer, every policy, every sermon from every pulpit, and every call to the people.
“If we the people, with God’s help, repair the breach, revival and renewal will come. Weeping and mourning may endure in this night of our discontent, but joy will come in the morning. Love and light will burst through. God will hear our prayers if we do the work of repairing society’s breach.”
He declared that “America has never yet been all that she has hoped to be. But right here, right now, a Third Reconstruction is possible if we choose.”
Barber quoted the hymn lyrics written by Harry Emerson Fosdick in the midst of the Great Depression: “God of grace and God of glory, on thy people pour thy power. … Cure thy children’s warring madness, bend our pride to thy control; shame our wanton, selfish gladness, rich in things and poor in soul. Save us from weak resignation to the evils we deplore.”
Then Barber preached and prayed: “Yes, God, grant us wisdom and grant us courage until thoughts of destroying one another give way to deeds of embracing each other; until our policies prove our promise of equal justice under law; until we decide too many have been hurting too long.
“Grant us courage until in every way we show in our democratic process that everybody has a right to live; until we lift from the bottom so that everybody rises; until the stones that the builder rejected become the chief cornerstone of a new social reality.
“Please God, grant us wisdom, grant us courage, until the poor are lifted, the sick are healed, children are protected, and civil rights and human rights never neglected. Grant us wisdom for the facing of this hour until love and justice are never rejected.
“Grant us wisdom and courage for the facing of this hour until, together, we make sure there is racial justice and economic justice and living-wage justice and health care justice and ecological justice and disability justice and justice for homeless and justice for the poor and low-wealth and working poor and immigrant justice — until we study war no more and peace and justice are the way we live.”